On September 17, 2008, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that while an injured person may recover the market value of the home health care services provided by her uninjured husband, the uninjured husband cannot recover the value of the wages he lost while providing those home health care services.
In Hutchings v. Childress, Slip Opinion No. 2008-Ohio-4568, Plaintiff suffered a severe brain injury from an automobile accident caused by the Defendant's negligence. Plaintiff brought a claim against the Defendant for her injuries, and Plaintiff's husband filed a claim for loss of consortium. Plaintiff's husband, a stockbroker, was Plaintiff's caregiver throughout her extensive recovery period. During this time, the husband attended all therapy and medical appointments with his injured wife, and took over all household duties. As a result, he took significant time off from work, and lost a significant amount of income.
At trial, an economist estimated that the husband's lost income due to time off work spent caring for his injured wife was between $1,775,000 and $2,296,000 over the expected length of his work life. The trial court refused to instruct the jury that it could award these damages for the uninjured husband's loss of income during the time spent caring for his injured wife.
The trial court's decision was affirmed by the Fifth District Court of Appeals, which held that a jury could not award damages for an uninjured husband's lost wages resulting from "gratuitous nursing care" provided to his injured wife.
Resolving a split among the courts of appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the ruling, holding that while the injured spouse may recover the value of nursing care provided by her spouse, the uninjured spouse cannot recover the wages he lost while caring for his injured spouse. The Court reasoned that while it is foreseeable that a tortfeasor would be required to pay the market rate for the care provided to an injured party, it is unforeseeable that a tortfeasor would be required to pay the lost wages of an injured party's spouse who acted as a caretaker. Further, the court reasoned that a spouse's decision to take a break from work to care for an injured spouse is only indirectly attributable to the tortfeasor's actions because such a choice stems primarily from a sense of obligation by the uninjured spouse.
The Court also clarified that recovery of the market value of caretaker services constitutes damages recoverable by the injured spouse, not damages for loss of consortium flowing to the uninjured spouse. But because Plaintiffs in Hutchings only presented evidence of the uninjured spouse's lost wages and presented no evidence of the market value of the home health care provided, the Court held Plaintiffs could not recover.
Justice Pfeifer authored the majority opinion, to which Chief Justice Moyer, and Justices O'Donnell, Lanzinger, and Cupp concurred. Justice Stratton concurred in part, but dissented as to the majority's disposition of the case. Justice Stratton stated that because the Court had set a new standard for damages, it should remand the case to permit introduction of evidence regarding the economic value of the care that Plaintiff's husband had provided. She wrote that if the Court did not remand the case, Plaintiffs would be deprived of any compensation for their loss. Justice O'Connor dissented on the basis that jurisdiction had been improvidently accepted.